Blu-rays of the Week
First Man (Universal)
In his first film since winning the Oscar for directing the wildly overpraised musical La La Land, Damien Chazelle proves his versatility, even though his straightforward biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong—the first man to step on the surface of the moon—received mixed reviews upon its release. I’m not sure why: Chazelle handles the sweeping historical and dramatic canvas impressively, keeps the CGI from overpowering the human story, and even finds suspense and tenseness in the various space flights. If Ryan Gosling seems too emotionless, he still evokes Armstrong’s steely resolve; even better is Claire Foy in the thankless role as Neil’s wife, turning her into the film’s most fascinating character. The film looks superb on Blu; extras include a Chazelle commentary, deleted scenes and featurettes.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Criterion)
Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s intense 2007 drama tells a simple story about an illegal abortion. The spellbinding acting—especially by Anamaria Marinca as a woman stuck between her friend and boyfriend (her minutely detailed expressions at a long meal with his family are priceless)—is partly derailed by Mungiu stacking the deck and letting his characters act too implausibly. Would the abortionist—shown as a professional in every way—not notice a knife missing from his case and leave his identity papers at a hotel desk? Would our heroine leave her friend during a crucial time to visit her boyfriend even after telling him she’s busy and can’t come? Such weakly-rendered details nag mostly because Mungiu gets so much else right in this strong, tense film. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is immaculate; extras include a Mungiu interview, deleted scenes, Cannes Film Festival press conference and featurette on Romanian audiences’ reactions.
Spiral (Cohen Media)
The horrible reality of contemporary bigotry is revealed in Laura Fairrie’s powerful documentary, which dives head-first into today’s burgeoning anti-Semitic movement in Europe. We illuminatingly hear from Jews who have taken their own sort of refuge by deciding to return to Israel, along with others who are staying in place: after all, Europe is their original homeland, even if there remain many Holocaust deniers and other racists in their midst, often making their benighted opinions known in a very public manner. The hi-def transfer looks excellent; lone extra is an interview with Fairrie.
DVDs of the Week
The Lost Village (First Run)
The gentrification of many NYC neighborhoods has continued apace for decades, and Roger Paradiso’s documentary shows how New York University has done its part to help bring about the ruination of Greenwich Village. The problem is that his righteous bitterness and anger too often distract him from getting more in-depth about what’s going on. Just saying “NYU bad” and repeating that rents and tuition are so high that some students have turned to the sex industry to get by (now that would make a fascinating documentary) isn’t enough. Too much interesting info is simply mentioned but left unexplored. There’s sleight of hand too: the McDonald’s on West 3rd and on Broadway are seen as recent interlopers, when both franchises have been there for decades.
Tea with the Dames (IFC)
This beguiling documentary about four grand dames of British acting—Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith—lets us watch as they engagingly, hilariously and touchingly discuss their careers, friendships and even mortality. Director Roger Michel smartly allows the ladies to go back and forth, feeling free enough to let fly with a curse word here, an extra slug of champagne there; inserting vintage clips of the quartet in their prime—from 50s Shakespeare to 21st century films—is an extra added nice touch. One quibble is the film’s brevity: 83 minutes is not nearly long enough to do these women justice; at the very least there must be hours of deleted sequences, so let’s see those!